in Sport

October 19, 2018

Gemba Strategy Thought-Starter

Have you ever arrived at a sporting event, waited in a queue to enter the stadium and missed the beginning of the game due to the wait? There’s no ideal solution yet in the sporting space for this issue, but Amazon is attempting to solve it in the retail space. Their Amazon Go stores allow customers to pick the products they want and walk out without queueing for the checkout. They are then automatically charged for the products via an app.

Recently Amazon Go has expanded beyond its hometown of Seattle by opening two new stores in Chicago, and reports suggest the company is planning 3,000 stores by 2021. This got us at Gemba thinking – is this type of technology an opportunity for sports venues? What other potential improvements could we see in the customer experience at sporting events?

The customer experience at sporting events has seen incremental improvements in recent years, with innovations such as mobile payments and ticketing. However, in Australia, with multiple hirers for most venues, funding these kinds of innovations can be difficult. But what if everything were in the hands of one organisation, an organisation skilled at creating a smooth customer experience? What if it were Amazon designing the process? Or Qantas? Or Disney?

Each of these companies is skilled in different ways, but they have one thing in common: they excel at creating a seamless, branded customer experience.

Amazon has recently expanded from the digital world to the physical world with the goal of allowing customers to buy whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want. This includes not only their Amazon Go stores but also initiatives like Prime Now, which delivers orders in under an hour, and AmazonFresh Pickup, which offers grocery pick up in as little as 30 minutes after ordering.

Qantas imprints its brand on every step in the journey. They offer Qantas points for customers who book an Uber to the airport. They’ve developed personalised, permanent bag tags that simplify the check-in process. And through their loyalty program, they get customers coming back and can utilise the customer data they get to further personalise and improve the customer experience.

Disney’s strength is their relentless focus on being the “happiest place on earth”. They train staff (who they call “cast members”) for hours to get the right tone to use in talking to customers. When a customer has a bad experience (for example, waiting in line to find out that he or she is not tall enough for the ride), they give out benefits such as skip-the-queue for the next ride. Disney has also advised sports teams about how to improve the customer experience, suggesting to one Australian team that they ensure that all stadium staff are wearing the team’s hat rather than the stadium’s hat.

So how might these experts approach the sporting event experience?

Amazon potentially would use its Amazon Go technology to improve the ticketing and payment process: enabling customers to walk into the stadium without having previously bought a ticket, or perhaps allowing customers to buy food, drinks and merchandise without having to queue for a checkout. They would also possibly combine the ticketing sale and resale market into one location, as they have done with Amazon Marketplace.

Qantas might ensure a smooth ordering and ticketing process: personalised communications about events relevant to each fan, seat assignments based on the fan’s preferences, fast queues for top customers and rewards for loyal fans. Their app would likely be the “remote control” for all things event-related: opportunities to change seats, upgrade offers, event and stadium information, entertainment and more.

Disney likely would focus on customer service, ensuring that all stadium staff were correctly trained in dealing with customers. Poor customer experiences would be rewarded with benefits such as free food or drink. They may even integrate the event experience with their own hotels, ensuring a smooth and consistent event experience for out-of-town fans. And with their obsession over ending the day on a good note, they likely would develop a process to help customers more easily find their cars.

The logistics and stakeholder complexities of the Australian sporting event landscape make many of these innovations difficult. Nonetheless, there is clearly significant opportunity to improve. What can sporting organisations learn from the experts in other industries? How can all stakeholders – teams, leagues, venue operators, ticketing operators – work together and think like Amazon, Qantas and Disney to improve the customer event experience?